This week I’m cutting back my running mileage to 38 from the 55-57 miles per week I’ve been running the last 3 weeks and am doing just one formal workout, which I did yesterday—a 40-minute up-tempo run at slightly slower than acidosis threshold effort on rolling roads in Rancho Santa Fe, which is a cut-back from the 60-minute up-tempo runs I’ve been doing. I often get asked about these recovery weeks since not too many people do them.
Most runners tend to focus on miles and paces. Improvements in fitness, however, occur during the recovery period between runs, not during the runs themselves. The physiological adaptations to training occur with a correctly timed alternation between stress and recovery. You must give equal attention to both to run your best or sometimes to even run at all.
After a few weeks of running the same mileage, decrease your mileage by about a third for one recovery week before increasing your mileage. This gives your legs a chance to absorb and recover from the training you’ve done, eliminate the accumulated fatigue from training, and make the necessary adaptations. For example, if you’ve been running 30 miles per week for three weeks, back off to 20 miles for one week before increasing above 30 miles for the next week. DON’T feel guilty about doing this. It’s for your benefit. Trust me, I’m a doctor. 😉
Think of this strategy as taking one step back at the end of each training cycle so you can take two steps forward during the next one. Over time, your weekly mileage progression will look something like this:
Weeks 1–4: 30-30-30-20 miles
Weeks 5–8: 35-35-35-23 miles
Weeks 9–12: 40-40-40-26 miles
As you can see, you increase your weekly mileage over time, but you do it systematically, without any abrupt changes, which is key for enabling your body to adapt and for preventing injuries.
A lot of runners I’ve met don’t like to take recovery weeks because they feel guilty that they’re not doing enough training. But that guilt is overcome when you understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. When designed this way, with both stress and recovery given equal attention and diligence, your training plan is an elegant system that works.
After this week is over, things change a little—I’m going to keep the mileage in the mid-50s, maybe go up to 60 (96 kilometres per week for my international readers) if I can get my ass out of bed to do some morning runs and run twice per day, and up the intensity with VO2max intervals. This will give me one VO2max workout, one long threshold workout at slightly slower than threshold pace, and one very long run of at least 20 miles each week. The other days I’ll fill in with easy mileage. Here’s a clip of me speaking about VO2max training from the CanFitPro Conference in Toronto last month:
If you want to help support my run at the New York City Marathon, which I’m running in memory of my mom, please donate to the American Cancer Society: http://main.acsevents.org/site/TR/DetermiNation/DNFY11EA?px=29614587&pg=personal&fr_id=54459